The decision by an international panel of vets to designate the UK as free of foot and mouth came as a welcome surprise to ministers and the industry this week. The moves by the OIE (Office International des Epizooties), the controlling body for international animal health, clears the way for Britain to resume trade in animals and animal products to non-EU countries. Food and farming minister Lord Whitty said: "The decision came as a surprise as we didn't expect to get the all clear until March. But the decision is very welcome." Clare Cheney, chief executive of the Provision Trade Federation, said the announcement was a complete surprise, as it had been feared the last minute scare over antibodies found in sheep in Northumberland might have scuppered chances of an all-clear until May. Meat and Livestock Commission marketing director Richard Lowe said: "We have kept in contact with our customers in the non-EU throughout the epidemic and will be talking to them again over the next few days. I am confident we can get exports started again very quickly." l See pages 25 and 27 for more details. {{NEWS }}